Transcript: Senator Chris Coons on "Face the Nation," September 8, 2019

Democratic senator questions Trump approach to Taliban talks

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware that aired Sunday, September 8, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Democrat Chris Coons who's on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's usually in Delaware when we talk to him. So we're glad to have you here face to face. Good morning. 

SENATOR CHRIS COONS: Thanks Margaret, great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Obama administration tried to negotiate with the Taliban.

SEN. COONS: Yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: They never got this far.

SEN. COONS: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you have a problem with the Trump administration doing it?

SEN. COONS: I don't have a problem with the Trump administration trying to resolve our very long conflict in Afghanistan through direct negotiations with the Taliban. And I agree that we should not fully withdraw from Afghanistan until we've got conditions on the ground that will prevent it from becoming once again a haven for terrorists who might attack us, as happened on 9/11. But I disagree with how our president goes about his negotiations around the world. He seems to think that he and he alone individually can negotiate with Kim Jong Un in North Korea, with Xi Jinping in China, or in this case with the Taliban. We don't even have an ambassador in Pakistan or in Jordan. 

I'm concerned that our president isn't listening to his generals, to his diplomats, to the intelligence community. Frankly, that's largely why General Mattis, for whom I have huge respect, resigned in protest- was our president's tendency to make abrupt decisions without knowing the context or the region, and without relying on the advice of the skilled diplomats and generals we have.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Lindsey Graham was on this program recently raised a concern that the president wasn't listening to his national security advisers in Afghanistan. Do you think Congress needs to put some kind of backstop in place to keep the troop number at a certain level like he's trying to do?

SEN. COONS: I do think that we need to be engaged in a bipartisan way in making it clear why we value sustained engagement in the world to prevent terrorism from coming to our shores again. This frankly is also why I believe Joe Biden would be our best next president, is I think he has deep and wide experience in foreign policy and understands the values of our alliances.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're a Biden surrogate. 

SEN. COONS: I am a Biden supporter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know what his plan is to draw down troops or to negotiate a end to the war?

SEN. COONS: I can't speak to the specifics of how he would, but I know that unlike our current president he would rely upon and listen to the advice of generals and diplomats. I also think that he's learned from his experience. He has spent decades in foreign service, as has General Mattis, as both a senator and a vice president. Look, history moves and if you don't learn from history you can't shape it. One of the things I most respect about General Mattis is how deeply read he is in history. One of my concerns about our current president is- is his shallow understanding of recent history.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman Tim Ryan, who's running against Joe Biden, raised questions this week publicly about whether Biden has the energy and suggested he's declining in clarity.

SEN. COONS: I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to that?

SEN. COONS: I disagree with the congressman. I've known Joe for decades. The reason that I think Joe Biden is consistently top in the polls over and over is because the American people know his heart as I do. They know that he would lead a real change in our place in the world and strengthen our security and prosperity by reembracing our allies. And that frankly in the United States he was called "middle class Joe" for decades in the Senate because he's never forgotten where he's from- from Scranton, Pennsylvania and Claymont, Delaware. He is the person who I think can actually deliver the change that our middle class is looking for. That's what Donald Trump ran on, but it's not what he's delivered. I do think a Biden administration would make the changes that would strengthen our middle class.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congress is coming back to work sometime soon.

SEN. COONS: Some would say tomorrow. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: There you go. But the question is whether they're actually getting to work on anything related to gun legislation. We haven't heard any specifics from the Republican leadership. What are you trying to get done?

SEN. COONS: Well Senator Pat Toomey and I- Pat's a Republican senator from Pennsylvania. We've been working hard on our bipartisan bill the NICS Denial Notification Act. Tragically in August, we lost 50 more Americans in mass shooting incidents in Dayton and El Paso, in Odessa. The Odessa shooter failed a background check. Our bill would make sure that state law enforcement is promptly notified when someone fails a background check. I've been talking with Republicans, with Democrats, with the White House over the August recess. I'm hopeful President Trump will actually lead on this issue next week. Take a position. Stick with it. The American people deserve no less.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be tracking that. Thank you very much--

SEN. COONS: Thank you, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Senator Coons and a very early happy birthday to you. 

SEN. COONS: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thanks for joining us. And we'll be right back in a moment.